October 2006 Issue
The Roots of Tragedy
The site of the Logan elm reminds visitors of a magnificent tree, a famous oration and the sad history of Ohio's native people.
The wind that blows across the undulating ground planted in soybeans and corn must hold traces of John Logan's breath, but long ago it swallowed his words in the same way the tilling of the earth swallowed the forest home of Logan's people. Those honored words, spoken in 1774 next to an American elm tree that grew near Scippo Creek on the Pickaway Plains some 5 miles south of Circleville, are
chiseled into a gray granite monument lest they and this place be forgotten. Stroll the memorial grounds a mile east of U.S. Rte. 23 on St. Rte. 361 and stop long enough to read the Mingo leader's lament, articulated near what became known as the Logan elm, Ohio's most famous tree while it lived and arguably still so. The words remain proud, poignant, heartrending, soul-searing: "I appeal to any white man to say if ever he entered Logan's cabin hungry, and he gave him not meat; if ever he came cold and naked, and he clothed him not. During the course of the last long and bloody war, Logan remained idle in his cabin, an advocate for peace. Such was my love for the whites, that my countrymen pointed as I passed, and said, 'Logan is the friend of the white man.' I have even thought to live with you but for the injuries of one man, Colonel Cresap, who last spring in cold blood and unprovoked murdered the relatives of Logan, not even sparing his wife and children.
"There runs not a drop of my blood in the veins of any living creature. This has called on me for revenge. I have sought it; I have killed many; I have fully glutted my vengeance. For my country, I rejoice in the beams of peace. But do not harbor a thought that mine is the joy of fear. Logan never felt fear. He will not turn on his heel to save his life. Who is there to mourn for Logan? Not one."
So stated Tachnedorus, an Indian leader of the Mingo tribe and a Christian known as Capt. John Logan. He often is called chief, though he was not. There is a question whether Logan actually delivered the oration made on the signing of a peace treaty that, in effect, opened what was then the northwest to expansion and thus began the swift and often blood-smeared exile of native peoples from the Ohio territory. One story says Logan had refused to attend the signing of the treaty, which ended Lord Dunmore's War, yet another barren island in an archipelago of native defeats that led to Wounded Knee and capitulation 1,000 miles distant and 116 years hence. Instead, Logan is said to have dictated the words read by Simon Girty, a white man of mixed notoriety who had been captured by Indians as a boy and reared by his captors.
Girty lives in literature as one of the jurors from hell in Steven Vincent Benet's classic short story, "The Devil and Daniel Webster." Girty was to secure scorn by working for the British during the American Revolution. He later earned his place in literary hell for watching as Col. William Crawford, for whom Crawford County is named, was tortured to death by Indians retaliating for what they viewed as atrocities visited upon them by soldiers and militiamen. Girty, a lifelong British loyalist who eventually settled in southern Ontario and likely was not nearly as callous as legend decrees, died peacefully in 1818.
Revolutionary hero Gen. George Rogers Clark, whose youngest brother William was the Clark of the Lewis and Clark expedition, stood among the gathered who heard Logan or, more probably, Girty speak the words.
Logan was murdered - assassinated, really - with a tomahawk wielded by his nephew six years after the peace treaty was signed. An Indian council ordered the killing, his executioner said, because Logan "was too great a man to live... He talked so strong that nothing could be carried contrary to his opinions. His eloquence always took all the young men with him... He was a very, very great man, and as I killed him, I am to fill his place and inherit all his greatness." But Logan's assassin is remembered only for the single brutal act in an otherwise unremarkable life. He did, however, live in a mean world.
The Hocking County town of Logan, Ohio, is named after John Logan, as is a county in West Virginia near where the decisive battle was fought in a brief but bloody skirmish between settlers and the long settled. The war was mostly Logan's doing. He, by all accounts and by his own admission, had gone on a rampage in accordance with Indian justice. White men had killed Logan's kin, and blood demanded blood. Tachnedorus blamed a party of Virginians led by Michael Cresap, a militiaman and an Indian hunter, although a group led by Daniel Greathouse likely was responsible for the murder of Logan's family. After the battle at Point Pleasant ended hostilities, Logan never recovered from his loss. His rage soon slipped into melancholy, his melancholy into the nether of madness. The power of his madness invited fear, and so Logan had to die. That's what the stories say.
Cresap did not outlive Logan. He died in 1775 after driving himself to exhaustion while long-marching Maryland riflemen during the revolution. History does not record what end befell Greathouse. It does record what happened to the territory's Indian tribes, which included the Shawnees of Blue Jacket, the Delawares of Buckongahelas, the Miamis of Little Turtle, the Wyandots, the Ojibwas, the Ottawas, the Potawatomis, the Kickapoos, the Eries and Logan's Mingos. Their ending is well known if not particularly celebrated anymore.
In 1782, two years after Logan's death, 96 Indians, Delawares converted to Christianity, were massacred at a Moravian village in the Ohio country by a band of whites hell-bent on avenging the killings of several settlers in western Pennsylvania. The Delawares had nothing to do with the killings, but 28 men, 29 women and 39 children were slaughtered at Gnadenhutten. The massacre led to the wretched death of Crawford, who was tortured because several of the men responsible for Gnadenhutten had joined his command. In 1787, the Northwest Ordinance laid out Washington's guidelines for statehood. In 1794, an American army crushed a confederacy of Indians at the Battle of Fallen Timbers near Toledo. In 1795, the Treaty of Greenville ceded most of the Ohio territory to the United States. Eight years later, in 1803, Ohio became the 17th state. In 1842, the state's remaining Indian settlement, a reservation near Upper Sandusky, was ordered vacated by the federal government. The Wyandots were banished from Ohio to a reservation in Kansas.
Through all of that cheerless history the Logan elm remained, battered by weather but flourishing for most of the next 200 years. The ancient tree, by connecting the present to a living past, presented those who stood before it with certain irrevocable truths about that past.
Melancholy still hangs in the air like campfire smoke on a windless night. Before its death in 1964 from Dutch elm disease, the tree grew to 104 feet in height, to 180 feet in spread, to 24 feet in trunk circumference. The monument that notes the tree's importance stands about 10 feet in height, about 6 feet in spread and about 30 feet in circumference at its base. On one side of the monument is written Loganâ€™s speech. On the other side is written the following:
"Beside the stream then flowing beneath this majestic elm of the centuries in 1774, Logan, the chief of the Mingoes and friend of the whites, here delivered his oration upon the occasion of the signing of the treaty of peace between the chiefs of the northwestern Indian tribes and the Virginia militia; a treaty following the battle of Point Pleasant, West Virginia - an oration unequalled for eloquence, lofty sentiment, solemn truth and poignant sorrow. This treaty opened the Northwest Territory to settlement. This tribute to Logan was erected in 1919 by the descendants of the pioneers of this community - a tribute from civilization to a noble man of a savage race."
At the northeast corner of the large monument sits another, much smaller, put there in 1980 by students from a local middle school. The message on the second monument answers presumptive words on the first:
"The Indians were neither barbarians nor savages - they fought for their mother the earth - they fought to live."
A stand-alone plaque marks the spot where the Logan elm grew. A white oak is planted on the spot. Maybe it's a trick of the mind or perhaps a jest played by whatever spirits linger, but the vegetation near the plaque and the oak grows in such a way as to reveal what could be the vestiges of a circle that the trunk of a great tree might have filled. Except for that hallucinatory tracing on the ground, the Logan elm is gone, along with so much else.
Trees of Note
Ohio, once 90 to 95 percent tree-covered, had lost nearly all but a small fraction of its forest to agriculture by 1900. Today, trees cover about 30 percent of the state, and 11 of them are the biggest of their kind in the United States.
One notable tree, though not the largest of its kind, has survived since the early 1800s. The tree, which grows in a private yard near Savannah in Ashland County, is the last living out of millions of apple trees planted by Johnny Appleseed. The ancient apple, a Rambo variety that still produces fruit, can be viewed from the road at 1251 Co. Rd. 658.
Cuttings from the Appleseed tree have been grafted onto rootstock that can be purchased at the Historic Tree Nursery (www.historictrees.org) for $35 apiece. The nursery also sells trees that descended from the Logan elm.
A few other remarkable Ohio trees:
The stateâ€™s largest tree is an American sycamore growing on private property near the northeast corner of U.S. Rte. 30 and St. Rte. 89 near Jeromesville in Ashland County.
The second-largest tree is an eastern cottonwood that grows in Delaware County at Alum Creek State Park. Look for it near the corner of Africa and Cheshire roads.
The nationâ€™s biggest Ohio buckeye grows in a residential front yard in southeastern Huron County. Find it on the west side of St. Rte. 13 just south of Fitchville.
Three of the nationâ€™s biggest specimens grow in Hamilton County: a two-wing silverbell and an American yellowwood can be found in Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati; a shingle oak sprouts at a private residence in Cincinnati.
Ohio also claims the nationâ€™s biggest Kentucky coffeetree (at Madison in Lake County), the No. 1 Siberian elm (at Londonderry in Ross County), the largest Norway maple (at Kenyon College in Knox County) and the king chinkapin oak (at Marietta in Washington County).
To learn more about Ohioâ€™s biggest trees, see the Ohio Department of Natural Resources web site at www.ohiodnr.com/forestry/bigtrees/.